The State Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entity Constitutions of both the Federation and the Republika Srpska (RS) provide for freedom of religion, and individuals generally enjoyed this right in areas that are ethnically mixed or where they are adherents of the majority religion; however, the ability of individuals to worship in areas where theirs is a minority religion was restricted, sometimes violently.
Respect for religious freedom improved slightly during the period covered by this report. A significant increase in the number of refugees who returned to areas in which they constituted a religious minority indicated increased confidence among refugees that their religion and culture would be respected; however, these returns provoked a reaction by ethnic nationalists in some areas, who at times met the returnees' efforts to follow their faith with violence.
Religious intolerance in the country directly reflects ethnic intolerance because the identification of ethnicity virtually is indistinguishable from one's religious background. Despite the constitutional provisions for religious freedom, some discrimination against minorities occurs in virtually all parts of the country. In some communities, local religious leaders contributed to intolerance and an increase in nationalist feeling through public statements and on occasion in sermons. Increasing refugee returns and the resulting growth in ethno-religious minorities at times led to violence, although there was a marked decrease from previous years.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government and leaders from all three major religious communities in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country's territory is divided into two entities, the Federation and the RS, with a separate administrative unit comprising Brcko, and has a total area of 19,781 square miles; its population is estimated to be between 3.4 and 4.4 million. In 2001 the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that the population was 3.8 million. Reliable statistics on the numbers of believers of different faiths were unavailable.
Ethnic groups are identified very closely with distinct religions or religious/cultural traditions. According to a 1991 census, the three largest are: Bosniaks, who generally are Muslim or of Muslim background (46 percent); Serbs, who generally are Serbian Orthodox or of Orthodox background (31 percent); and Croats, who generally are Roman Catholic or of Roman Catholic background (14 percent). There also are small numbers of Romani and Jews. Protestants and other religious groups constitute a very small part of the population.
While the practice of religion is low among all groups, religious leaders claim that it is increasing among the young as an expression of increased identification with their ethnic heritage. Religious practice reportedly is highest among Croats in the Herzegovina region, although religious observance appears to be nominal for all three major ethnic groups.
Ethnic cleansing during the 1992-95 war caused internal migration, which almost completely segregated the population into separate ethno-religious areas. Despite the increasing return of refugees, the majority of Serbian Orthodox adherents still live in the RS, and the majority of Muslims and Catholics still live in the Federation. Within the Federation, distinct Muslim and Catholic majority areas remain. Returns of Serbian Orthodox adherents and Muslims to their prewar homes in western Herzegovina, and Muslims to their prewar homes in eastern Bosnia near Srebrenica have shifted notably the ethno-religious composition in both areas.
Missionary activity is limited but growing and includes a small number of representatives from the following organizations, some of which have their central offices for the region in Zagreb or another European city outside of the country: Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodist Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), and Krishna Consciousness.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and individuals generally enjoyed this right in areas that are ethnically mixed or where they are adherents of the majority religion; however, the ability of individuals to worship in areas where theirs is a minority religion was restricted, sometimes violently.
The Constitution attempts to safeguard the rights of the three major ethnic groups by providing for each group's representation. At times this representation is divided equally between the three groups; for example, there is a joint presidency composed of a representative of each of the three major ethnic groups, whose chairmanship rotates every 8 months. The Bosnian Council of Ministers has six ministries, with each ethnic group holding two ministries and deputy ministry positions in the other four ministries. In the RS, eight ministries were scheduled beginning in 2003 to be led by Serbs, five by Bosniaks, and three by Croats, while in the Federation eight ministries were scheduled to be led by Bosniaks, five by Croats, and three by Serbs. This principal of ethnic parity or protection means that certain positions in government and the military are de facto reserved, at least nominally, for adherents or sympathizers of certain faiths, since ethnic groups are so intrinsically identified with distinct religions or religious/cultural traditions.
Parties dominated by a single ethnic group remain powerful in the country. Most political parties continue to identify themselves closely with the religion associated with their predominant ethnic group; however, some political parties claim that they are multiethnic. Some clerics have characterized hard-line nationalist political sympathies as part of "true" religious practice. Many political party leaders are former Communists who have adopted the characteristics of ethnicity, including religion, to strengthen their credibility with voters. However, the nationalists lost power in the Federation and in the State governments as a result of the November 2000 general elections. Following the elections, the multiethnic Social Democratic Party, the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and several smaller parties formed the Alliance for Change coalition, which has control of the Federation and State governments until the scheduled October 2002 general elections. However, the Bosniak nationalist Party for Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croat-nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) remain powerful, particularly in areas where nationalist politicians can prey more easily on the fears of the population. The nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS) remained ideologically committed to Serb cultural and religious authority in the territory of the RS, where it won a significant plurality in the 2000 elections. While the Party for Democratic Progress (PDP) of RS Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic is relatively moderate, it is dependent heavily on the SDS in order to remain in office.
While the majority of the population of the Federation consists of Bosniaks and Croats, neither Islam nor Roman Catholicism enjoys special status under the Federation Constitution. In 2000 the Bosnian Constitutional Court struck down a provision in the RS Constitution directing the State to "materially support the Serbian Orthodox Church and cooperate with it in all fields." In 2002 the RS gave only nominal financial assistance to representatives of the Serbian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Islamic faiths.
There is no legislation governing religion or the licensing of religious groups. As a result, minority religions seeking entry into the country generally seek legal recognition as cultural or humanitarian organizations. Foreign religious workers normally enter initially as visitors, since a tourist visa allows for stays as long as 3 months. Some apparently enter and reenter the country every 3 months, essentially extending their tourist status indefinitely. Missionaries officially are required to obtain a temporary residence permit from a Cantonal Ministry of Interior before their 3-month tourist visas expires. At that point, they must submit documentation substantiating the nature and status of their religious group/organization and its work plan for the country. If the organization can readily demonstrate that it is a non-profit organization engaged in voluntary, humanitarian activities, the application normally is approved. There were no reports of cases in which missionaries' applications were refused. The Government reported that some missionaries chose first to apply for a work permit with the Federation Institute of Employment. If they were issued a work permit, temporary residence normally was granted to them for the same length of time as the work permit.
The leaders of the Muslim, Roman Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Jewish communities have prepared a draft law that would define the legal status of religious organizations, including property rights. The Roman Catholic Church has suggested apparently minor changes to the draft; however, the other three religious communities had not reviewed those changes by the end of the period covered by this report. The draft law would grant a right to property restitution "in accordance with the law;" however, no such restitution law has been established. The four traditional religious communities all have extensive claims for property that was nationalized after World War II, much of which has not been returned. Some international observers believe that a legal framework that accords equal status to all religious communities would decrease the dependence of religious leaders on the political process. However, the draft law has not yet been introduced in the State Parliament and its passage before scheduled general elections in October 2002 was unlikely.
The Cantonal and Entity governments oversee education; there is no national education ministry or policy. Public schools offer religious education classes, which in theory are optional. Religion classes are taught by members of the clergy and focus on the majority religion of the area; there generally are no organized religion courses for minorities. Homeschooling is not recognized as an alternative to obligatory public education.
In the RS, Serb students must pass the obligatory Serbian Orthodox religion class to graduate to the next grade level. In the five cantons with Bosniak majorities, religious instruction is offered as a 2-hour-a-week elective. In Sarajevo, Tuzla, and Zenica/Vares, there are Catholic school centers that Croat students may attend. In cantons with Croat majorities, all Croat students attend the "elective" 1-hour weekly religion course for primary and middle schools. In the Brcko administrative district, religious instruction is a true elective, provided for each of the three principal groups for 1-hour a week. Religion classes in Brcko and in Sarajevo Cantonal schools are scheduled at the end of the day; minority students who do not attend may leave for home.
In May 2000, entity Ministers of Education called for the introduction of countrywide courses in the eighth grade on "Democracy and Human Rights" and the "Culture of Religion;" however, only the Democracy and Human Rights course had been completed and incorporated into the official curriculum of the Federation, the RS, and Brcko by the end of the period covered by this report.
Religious holidays are not recognized officially at the national level. Serbian Orthodox holidays are recognized officially within the RS. Although there are no official religious holidays in the Federation, the law allows persons to take 4-days off per year to celebrate religious holidays. In cantons with a Bosniak (Muslim) majority, the established practice is to use the 4 days to celebrate two religious holidays that commemorate the revelation of the Koran and the migration of the prophet Mohammad to Mecca. As a rule, non-Muslims do not work those 4 days either. In cantons with a Croat (Roman Catholic) majority, the established practice is for persons to use their 4-days off to commemorate Easter and Christmas.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The weak administrative and judicial systems effectively restrict religious freedom and are major obstacles to safeguarding the rights of religious minorities. In addition the RS government, local governments, and police forces have allowed or encouraged an atmosphere in which abuses of religious freedom can occur.
Deputies being sworn into the RS National Assembly (RSNA) may choose a religious oath consistent with the individual's religious tradition or a nonreligious civil oath. Deputies to the State and Federation parliament take nonreligious civil oaths.
The Constitution provides for proportional representation for each of the three major ethnic groups in the Government and the military. Because of the close identification of ethnicity with religious background, this principal of ethnic parity in effect results in the reservation of certain positions in government and the military for adherents or sympathizers of certain faiths. The military in the RS is staffed overwhelmingly by ethnic Serbs and only has Serbian Orthodox chaplains. The Federation military is composed of both separate Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat (Roman Catholic) units, and integrated units; Muslim and Catholic chaplains are represented.
RS authorities frequently did not intervene to prevent the violent obstruction of efforts to rebuild some of the 618 mosques and 129 churches in the RS that were destroyed or significantly damaged during the 1992-1995 war (see Section III). Local police also subsequently did not conduct a serious investigation into several of the incidents.
RS authorities frequently delayed or denied building permits to obstruct attempts to rebuild mosques and churches destroyed during the war. Reconstruction of a small number of mosques in areas of the RS with large numbers of Bosniak returns has been completed or was underway; however, in Serb majority areas, authorities approved only 10 of the 15 building permits that were submitted for churches and only 11 of the 20 that were submitted for mosques; another 20 for mosques were denied because the permits did not fit municipal zoning requirements. According to the Roman Catholic Church, local authorities in Pecnik also threatened to demolish a Roman Catholic Church under renovation because the work was being done without a building permit.
The Human Rights Chamber, established under the Dayton Agreement, issues rulings which at times affect religious freedom, particularly regarding religious properties. The Chamber considers alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights if the violation is within the responsibility of one of the parties to the Dayton Agreement and occurred after its signing; decisions by the Chamber cannot be appealed to the Constitutional Court.
In October 2001, the Chamber ruled that the destruction of three mosques in Zvornik in 1992 and the subsequent illegal use of the sites constituted a violation by the RS of the Islamic community's freedom of religion. The Chamber found that the RS had prevented the Islamic community from rebuilding the mosques and had constructed illegally a multistory building on one site and a Serbian Orthodox Church on another. The Chamber ordered that the Islamic community be given monetary compensation and suitable alternative sites on which to construct new mosques within 6 months. In December 2001, the Zvornik municipality offered the Islamic community several alternative sites for two of the three destroyed mosques.
In October 2001, authorities in Bijeljina issued building permits for the reconstruction of two mosques in Bijeljina to partially comply with a 2000 Human Rights Chamber decision requiring that permits be granted for reconstruction of five mosques destroyed in 1993. Bijeljina authorities also paid the $4,500 (10,000 KM) compensation mandated by the Chamber.
All three major religious groups and the Jewish community have claims to property confiscated during World War II, the Communist period, or the 1992-95 war. Although the Federation and the RS legislatures considered legislation on restitution of property, the High Representative suspended action on both in 2001 until an economically acceptable restitution plan could be developed. There is no law on restitution. Municipal and canton authorities have broad discretion regarding disposition of contested property that was nationalized under the Communist government. Many use this as a tool of political patronage, rendering religious leaders dependent on politicians to regain lost property.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
The RS Government, local governments, and police forces frequently allowed or encouraged an atmosphere in which abuses of religious freedom could take place, although there was slight improvement from previous years. The absence of a police force willing to protect religious minorities and a judicial system willing to prosecute crimes against them were major obstacles to safeguarding the rights of religious minorities. While new officers are accepted into the police academies under strictly observed ethnic quotas, it will take years of concentrated effort to establish effective, professional multiethnic police forces throughout the country.
In June 2001, the Islamic community, in consultation with the international community, agreed to abandon a plan to lay the cornerstone at the central mosque in Stolac and to place instead a fence around the site. The mayor of Croat-dominated Stolac denied permission for the Islamic community to reconstruct the mosque, claiming that the Roman Catholic Church had requested permission to reconstruct a church that was on the site before the mosque. However, on October 15, 2001, the Federation Minister of Urban Planning signed a permit for the mosque's reconstruction, noting that no legal justification existed for further delay. On December 2, 2001, local police in Stolac made no effort to disperse a crowd of Croats who attacked the reconstruction site of a mosque being rebuilt. After local police failed to act, SFOR and special Federation police units dispersed the crowds and arrested one person for attacking a police officer and another for destroying with a chain saw the fence that protected the mosque site; both individuals were transferred to police custody. However, when a crowd of approximately 50 Croats subsequently surrounded the police station to demand the release of the two detainees, local police either released them or permitted their escape (contrary to orders by the Cantonal Police Minister). The IPTF criticized the local police response, and Stolac's assistant police chief subsequently was fired. On December 6, 2001, the two escaped detainees surrendered to the Stolac Municipal Court, which ordered their release; six other suspects remained at large. An investigation into the case was ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report.
On May 7, 2001, an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 Serb demonstrators violently disrupted a cornerstone laying ceremony on the site of the destroyed Ferhadija Central Mosque in Banja Luka. The mosque, deliberately destroyed by Serb nationalists during the war, had become a symbol of the ravages of ethnic cleansing, and efforts to rebuild it were politically sensitive. Before the ceremony could begin, approximately 200 protestors broke through police lines and violently attacked participants including elderly persons, high-ranking government officials, and representatives of the international community. Violent Serb protestors trapped more than 300 persons in a building on the site owned by the Islamic community for approximately 8 hours until RS police were able to evacuate them. Protestors attacked the building with stones and removed Islamic symbols from the building. Some police officers reportedly joined the demonstrators. Approximately 30 persons were injured during the riot, and one man died as a result of his injuries. Protestors also burned Bosniak-owned businesses and destroyed the Bosnian Foreign Minister's car and several buses. There were scattered reprisals by Bosniaks in the Federation, and Serb Orthodox buildings and believers in Bosniak-dominated areas were targeted following the violence in Banja Luka (see Section III).
In the aftermath of the riots, RS Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic publicly accepted responsibility on behalf of the RS government for the failure to provide security during the demonstrations in Banja Luka and Trebinje. However, in May 2001, the RSNA adopted a report that accused the Islamic community of creating situations that promoted violent demonstrations by seeking to rebuild mosques. RS leaders also suggested that the presence of international community leaders and the use of Islamic symbols and music were provocative.
The task force established by the RS Ministry of the Interior to coordinate the investigation into the Banja Luka riots was disorganized and ineffective, and the police did not make a serious attempt to investigate those who organized the violence. Police officers also failed to support the prosecution of those accused. During judicial proceedings against Bosnian Serbs identified by the police as having engaged in violent criminal acts during the riot, eight RS police officers gave false statements to a Banja Luka Court Investigative Judge, contradicting their official duty reports. The IPTF issued noncompliance reports against the officers for obstructing the investigation, and disciplinary proceedings against the officers were ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report.
On June 18, 2001, RS President Sarovic and Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic attended a ceremony to lay finally the cornerstone of the Ferhadija mosque. The RS Government ordered a large security operation for the event. RS police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of demonstrators, who sang nationalist songs and chanted anti-Muslim slogans to protest the ceremony. Several protesters were arrested. In contrast to the incidents in Banja Luka, local police officers reportedly provided truthful and complete testimony to a Banja Luka Investigative Judge. One of the demonstrators was sentenced to 18 months in jail, and 15 other persons were in detention pending trial at the end of the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
A significant number of citizens remained internally displaced or as refugees abroad as a result of the 1992-95 war. Virtually all had fled areas where their ethno-religious community had been in the minority or had ended up in the minority as a result of the war. However, both organized and spontaneous returns significantly increased during the period covered by this report. In some cases, the returns were associated directly with increasing religious pluralism.
In January 2002, the Office of the High Representative ordered the dismissal of Ivan Mandic from public office for his obstruction of the Dayton Peace Accords. In December 2000, Mandic, a Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ) hard-liner and the head of Mostar Municipality Southwest (MSW), refused to grant permission for the reconstruction of the Baba Besir Mosque, one of three mosques in MSW that were destroyed during the war.
In May 2002, five former police officers from Prijedor were detained for their suspected involvement in the 1995 murder of Tomislav Matanovic, a Catholic priest, and his parents.
Before the war, there were several mosques in the town of Prijedor. Unfortunately, Prijedor city authorities continued to refuse permission to reconstruct any of the mosques that were located within the city limits; however, reconstruction of a Catholic church is near completion.
In Bosniak-dominated Bradina, Konjic municipality, the Islamic community was attempting to contact the inheritors of land where the community has constructed a new mosque.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Until the 19th century, most Bosnians identified themselves by religious affiliation. With the rise of Balkan nationalism in the 19th century, Bosnians came to identify themselves in ethnic, as well as religious terms. This tendency increased during the Communist era when the regime discouraged religious affiliation. Under the Communists, most Bosnians identified themselves by ethnic group, or simply as "Yugoslavs." Since the country's independence, there have continued to be Bosnians who decline to accept either ethnic or religious identification and consider themselves simply as Bosnians.
The 1992-95 war in Bosnia was not a religious conflict as such. However, the association of ethnicity and religion is so close that the bitterness engendered by the war and the 270,000 deaths it caused has contributed to mutual suspicion among members of all 3 major religious groups.
Despite the constitutional provisions for religious freedom, a degree of discrimination against minorities occurs in virtually all parts of the country. Discrimination is significantly worse in the RS, particularly in the eastern RS, and in Croat-dominated areas of the Federation. However, incidents of discrimination occurred in Bosniak-majority areas as well.
In June 2002, an explosive device was thrown into the courtyard of a house belonging to a recent Bosniak returnee in Bijeljina. Police arrested a suspect, and an investigation into the incident was ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report.
Religious buildings, clerics, and individual believers in any area where they are a minority bear the brunt of retaliation for discrimination and violence perpetrated by other members of their religious/ethnic groups in areas where they are the majority. Because they are powerful symbols of religious identification and, therefore, ethnicity, clerics and religious buildings are favored targets. Most religious leaders severely criticize violence and nationalism, but their message is undermined by other clerics who continue to support nationalist causes and separatism.
While Sarajevo, the Bosniak-majority capital of the country, has preserved in part its traditional role as a multiethnic city, instances of discrimination continue to occur there, especially in education. Attacks against Orthodox and Catholic clerics and religious edifices have occurred in Sarajevo. In May 2002, anti-Semitic graffiti began to appear in the city; however, the graffiti was quickly removed. No further information was available on the February 2001 case in which a group of young men attacked and beat the Mufti of Sarajevo and several other Islamic community officials; the press reported that police arrested five young men for participating in the attack.
Numerous buildings belonging to the Islamic, Serbian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic communities were damaged or destroyed during the 1992-1995 war, usually in a deliberate attempt at ethnic intimidation. Among the religious buildings destroyed during the war were 618 mosques and 129 churches in RS territory. RS authorities frequently did not intervene to prevent the violent obstruction of efforts to rebuild many of the mosques and churches (see Section II).
Efforts to rebuild the destroyed Oman Pasha Mosque in Trebinje and the Ferhadija Central Mosque in Banja Luka resulted in violent riots in those cities in May 2001 (see Section II). In June 2001, Islamic community leaders finally were able to lay the cornerstone of the Ferhadija mosque; however, RS police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of demonstrators (see Section II). There were scattered reprisals by Bosniaks in the Federation following the violence in Banja Luka.
In April 2001, Muslim and Croat members of the State Presidency attended a ceremony commemorating the construction of a new synagogue in Mostar.
Serb Orthodox buildings and believers in Bosniak-dominated areas were targeted in the days following the 2001 riots in the RS. In contrast to events in the RS, protests in Bosniak majority areas against events in Trebinje and Banja Luka were well organized and usually peaceful. However, there were some violent acts, a number of them directed against buildings of the Serb Orthodox Church, the primary symbol of the Serb ethnic group. In May 2001, two Bosniaks threw a hand grenade at a Serb Orthodox Church in the Bosniak-dominated town of Sanski Most. The windows of a nearby cafe owned by a Serb also were smashed. Local police detained two Bosniak men in connection with the incidents. Also in May 2001, a group of displaced Bosniaks originally from the RS refused to allow a group of displaced Serbs, originally from Sarajevo, to enter the Osjek cemetery in Ilidza, a suburb of Sarajevo that was predominantly Serb before the war. In May 2001, approximately 20 Bosniaks stoned a house inhabited by Serbs in Sarajevo. Local police responded immediately to the attack, but no arrests have been made. Also in May 2001, 11 tombstones in an Orthodox cemetery in Tuzla were desecrated and the cemetery chapel vandalized. Three Bosniak juveniles were arrested and charged in the case and local government officials criticized the vandalism. In May 2001, a large group of Bosniaks stoned the houses of two Serb returnees in Bosniak-dominated Bocinja. In Croat-dominated Glamoc, Serb returnees' houses and the Orthodox Monastery Veselinje were shot with automatic weapons. Police have no suspects in the case.
In May 2001, leaflets were distributed in Doboj, in the RS, calling on Muslims to leave the city and urging Serbs to protest against the reconstruction of the city's mosque.
Leaders of the Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish communities have committed themselves publicly to building a durable peace and national reconciliation. The leaders of these four communities are members of the Interreligious Affairs Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which operates with the active involvement of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and OHR facilitate interfaith meetings at the local level as well. On June 8, 2001 in Rome, the Catholic conflict resolution group Sant'Egidio hosted a conference on religious reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish communities sent representatives to the conference, which released a joint statement supporting reconstruction of all religious sites in the country.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government and leaders from all three major religious communities in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The U.S. Government supports the return of refugees, democratization, and protection of human rights throughout the country. The U.S. Government also encourages leaders from all major religious communities to promote a multiethnic society that is conducive to religious freedom. Strong U.S. government support for full implementation of the Dayton Accords and a politically moderate, multiethnic, government is intended, over time, to improve respect for religious freedom in the country.
The U.S. Government provides financial support to the Human Rights Chamber, which hears cases on religious discrimination. The Ambassador frequently meets with the principal religious leaders, individually and collectively, to urge them to work toward moderation and multiethnicity. In addition, the Embassy publicly severely criticizes instances of religious discrimination and attacks against religious communities or buildings, and encourages leaders from all ethnic groups and members of the international community to oppose publicly such attacks. The U.S. Agency for International Development provides funding to train lawyers and judges on human rights, including religious freedom.